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4 Things to Do Before Considering Student Loans

Abigail Endsley
Abigail Endsley

April 28, 2018

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Defeated student

How are you going to pay for college?

I’m not asking that rhetorically. Stop and think: college costs the average student nearly $50,000. How are you going to pay for it?

If you’re like most college students, you’re probably relying on financial aid to cover a large portion of that absurdly high cost. I, like you, thought this was a good option until I sat down with a college counselor to talk about how financial aid really works.

Turns out most of your “financial aid” options are actually student loans. And in my opinion, taking out a loan is not “paying for” college. It’s just putting off a payment you can’t currently afford.

Fortunately, there are four simple and effective ways to actually pay for college that don’t involve blindly grabbing a student loan and hoping against hope that the debt doesn’t bury you alive.

1. Reduce the cost of your degree.

Before asking how you’ll pay for college, consider how much you should pay for college. Not everyone needs to shell out five figures a year for a top tier college experience.

Do some research. By using tools at your disposal like transfer credit, alternative courses, and affordable degrees, you can significantly reduce the cost of your degree, removing the need for borrowed money in the first place.

Want to find out exactly how much money you could save at your chosen school? We can help. Talk to one of our consultants at Unbound for a free college cost comparison.

2. Apply for scholarships.

Applying for scholarships doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Just give yourself enough time to apply (our counselors recommend applying before your senior year of high school) and set clear expectations for how much effort you’ll put into the scholarship search. Eliminating both crunch time and vague expectations will help get you through the application process more quickly, and will produce for better results.

If you want to learn more about applying for scholarships, read our post on the subject.

3. Accept monetary gifts.

Once you’ve exhausted steps one and two, complete a FAFSA to find out if you qualify for any grants. If you do, don’t hesitate to accept them. These grants are free gifts of money, set aside to help students like you pay for your education. They won’t negatively impact your future.

Just don’t forget, the FAFSA isn’t the only place you can go for financial support. Consider getting a job with an employer who offers tuition benefits. Or—if you already have a job—ask your employer whether they have a tuition assistance program. Your employer wants you to get your college education, so you may be surprised how much they’re willing to help you with the process.

4. Work Hard and Make Sacrifices

If you followed these steps in order, your final out-of-pocket costs should be significantly less daunting than they were when you started. At this point, you have one final goal: avoid debt.

Live at home instead of on campus. Buy used books. Get a part-time job (or a full-time job!) Take online courses as you can afford them instead of paying for a whole semester upfront—we call this technique cash-flowing college.

Find creative ways to cut the fluff and maybe even re-allocate your own resources. Debt-free degrees are unapologetically minimal.


By exploring the options above, debt-free college is not just possible, it’s definite. Most Unbound students successfully cut their overall costs in half by simply talking to one of our Advisors.

If you’re interested in learning more about cutting your own college costs, download our ebook or sign up for a free personalized college cost comparison—including a total cost breakdown for your dream school and creative ways to make it more affordable.

Your degree shouldn’t cost $50,000. And it certainly shouldn’t be a debt sentence.

Abigail Endsley
Abigail Endsley

A former student counselor and Unbound student, Abigail is passionate about empowering others to achieve their goals. When she’s not dreaming with her friends, you can find her reading or singing Broadway songs. Loudly.

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